As an additional insight: this is an offspring of one of the developers of mining hardware, Canaan. They have released the chip right before their anticipated IPO: https://coingeek.com/crypto-miner-maker-canaan-eyes-going-pu...
) Alpha is to a large extent the ultimate RISC architecture that on the user side does not have any implicit sideefects of instructions and syscalls and interrupts work by simply exchanging two register sets. The idea is that there is PALcode which is the only privileged code running on the CPU, which then keeps track of whether whatever is currently running in userspace is user or kernel code and passes messages between these, to some extent it is microkernel as part of the CPU, which you additionally can as an OS modify (in reality you could not, because the PALcode is amalgamation of both the OS semantics, quirks of the actual CPU implementation and the actual motherboard in given system)
IMhO, RISC-V is slightly better than Alpha on a many fronts:
the conditional branches which compares two registers would take two instructions on Alpha (on the critical path), RISC-V code density is better with compressed, the encoding is slightly cheaper for hardware, it ISA is more forward-looking/extensible, oh and it's open of course. The only thing I miss are the POPC/CTZ/CLZ instructions, but the B set will include them for implementations that have it.
UPDATE: more RISC-V upsides
RISC-V's future is looking better and better. Who knows? Maybe TSMC or Samsung or one of the smaller fabs puts out a multicore version on a fairly modern process node and gets a multi-player motherboard market built in Taipei, Seoul, and Shenzen. It could be a player in laptops, desktops, tablets, and mobile rather than just embedded and SBCs. It could even be done without a premium going to Intel, AMD, ARM, nVidia, TI, Freescale, or IBM. The possibilities are exciting, because every time I hear about this ISA and its implementations it's better news.
Of course, that never happened. But people keep wishing.
> : https://www.extremetech.com/computing/181867-amds-project-sk...
The mentioned Project Skybridge is dead: https://wccftech.com/amd-cancelled-skybridge-glofo-terminate...
OK, point taken. But do you have evidence that AMD has plans to do a second attempt?
Probably more open, too.
And yeah, we won't be seeing openpower on FPGAs anytime soon.
RISC-V isn't really about price or performance – it's about innovation, agility, exploration and new frontiers.
Hopefully some future product(s) with more PC compatible form factors come out in the next few years. :)
None of this matters if you're a company that wants to get into RISC-V and you're paying an engineer $10k+ a month to evaluate RISC-V and get a head start on developing your OS or application for it. The hardware cost (including expansion board) is maybe a week's salary.
As an engineer, I care about the elegance of the underlying hardware/ISA, but when it's time to buy tech for a client, I can't afford to do that.
I am not sure whether this will ever come.
The main CPU is just one of many chips in a computer nowadays – even some cables have ARM-chips built into them to convert signals. RISC-V can probably be an even better fit there as its open design makes it a lot easier to customize it so that its tailored for such specific tasks.
The interesting bit here is that from what I've heard, RISC V could be twice as efficient as ARM. Couple that with the open source model and we could see some real shifts in computing very soon.
RISC-V may not change everything, but I do believe that it will change on thing in a major way: the financials of CPU IP such as Tensilica, Cortex-M0, ARC etc.
There is very little friction in replacing embedded controllers that are not customer facing. And that's a market were $0.01 in licensing fees can be a big deal.
Edit: in the maker world, the so-called Blue Pill is incredibly popular. It has an STM32F103 SOC with a 72MHz Cortex M3 and tons of digital and analog interfaces. On AliExpress, these boards go for $1.60 a piece!
Reminds me of USB vs Firewire. Firewire was the superior of the two yet it lost. Why? USB didn't have Fw's $0.25 licensing fee per manufactured device.
I don't know who was supposed to pay the $0.25, but gizmos like external hard drives is a commodity market with razor thin gross margins.
Whoever decided that $0.25 was reasonable for that kind of market (Apple?) essentially killed the protocol right there.
Edit: here's the story: https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2017/06/the-rise-and-fall-of...
Steve Jobs changed royalty model from a flat licensing fee to a $1 fee per port (insane!), Intel walked away and cancelled all FireWire development, Jobs lowered it then to $0.25 but Intel didn't come back.
Probably still a good idea to have a lawyer read things over...
For those in the dark still, it stems from this scene: https://youtu.be/wPrUmViN_5c
In short the production run is very small and that's why it's so expensive. ARM SBCs with custom SoCs cost around the same. Just take a look at linaro's ARM desktop  It's $1200 and doesn't even come with 8GB of RAM.
Such a shame it has A53 cores instead of beefier A72 or newer… I guess Socionext was specifically going for super low power
This is the first revision of a developer board. It is intended for die-hard open source fanatics with money and (this is the real audience) professional developers who want to port operating systems (and perhaps their software) to RISC-V. Such developer boards are always expensive. Cheaper board will become available as soon as this audience is saturated. Then a next (cheaper) revision will be put to market that targets user mode software developers. This revision will still be expensive, but already cheaper. The following revision will target adventurous tinkerers. etc.
And so it trickles down and slowly the price decreases over time. But if you want to take a bet: it will nevertheless stay much more expensive than a Raspberry Pi for a long time.
They're for someone like Western Digital to buy for their devs to develop and test stuff against in their own designs.
I think that's pretty exciting.
As for super low cost hardware development: you can add a RISC-V CPU to FPGAs with as little as, say, 1500 LUTs, which can be purchased for less than $10.
I don't understand you mean by "proper open ISA".
The point of an open ISA is not "every product made with it is super cheap" (licensing is a tiny aspect of it), and expecting a newly developed, small-volume product to compete with something made by an established player at multiple orders of magnitude larger scale is totally unrealistic.
There's smaller, cheaper RISC-V products out there if you want something risc-v to play with. Serious adoption is going to happen at different places and not bound to "what does an HiFive dev kit cost", that's a rounding error in many places.
RPi also kind of ruined the hardware world because AFAIK the SoC was being dumped below cost; I'm not sure if that's still true.
If the purpose was to kill off the grossly overpriced PC104 market, mission accomplished. The fact that those boards have spawned a zillion competitors seems to suggest that any further dumping is not having the desired effect.
A free ISA is about more than saving a few pennies on each board in royalties, it's about having a chip you can truly trust. One that doesn't have some opaque binary blob running at ring -2. One where nothing is encrypted by a key only the manufacturer (and whomever they can strike a deal with) has. About hardware you truly own and control.
The moment you're talking ASIC (or even FPGA, with an opaque bitstream), it's anybody'd guess what happens whether you use a RISC-V CPU or not. Even if the known CPU is known to be untainted, a tiny, invisible, additional CPU is sufficient to take over the chip and you'd be none the wiser. The area cost of such an additional CPU would be essentially undetectable, less than 0.01mm2 on a modern process.
Unless you're talking about making your ASIC, but in that case, a commercial offering (which typically comes with a source code license) gives you just as much access to review the code for hidden firmware.
But maybe a simple FPGA design would be resistant to this technique if the attacker didn't know the intended bitstream in advance.
This has basically nothing to do with the ISA. It's not the ISA that hides secrets and requires binary blobs. A chip is much more than an instruction set, hence why dealing with the proprietary undocumented garbage to bring up a new ARM SoC is a pain in the ass even if you've memorized every ARM instruction down to its encoding...
If RISC-V gets picked up and used by mainstream chipmakers in the SBC & TV BOX & mobile space, there is no doubt we will end up with chips that have proprietary undocumented garbage interfaces. Just like they also now take something like the (open source) ATF or OP-TEE, implement support for their own chip, and then publish a binary blob without source code.
This gets repeated over and over but I don't get it. You could build a blob-free ARM chip. Existing RISC-V chips already have/had blobs. Freeeeedom is orthogonal to the ISA.
Actually nobody will have a rude awakening from that as everybody in RISC-V already knows this. That ISA don't matter much for price or performance was mentioned in pretty much every single presentation on RISC-V.
Only by open source fans who don't know much about hardware had such unrealistic expectations.
RISC-V allows for a future of open and costume hardware to be used. There will never be an open hardware RISC-V RPi style board unless you have an open ISA you can build around and use the software base.
Now we have real shot at something like that coming about.
There are lots of things that cost money in hardware design, and ISA licensing is a very small part of them.
Edit: I wonder if I should do a rather confrontational blog post telling people why Open hardware is never going to be the free lunch that open source software is..
Bunnie Huang spoke at one of the RISC-V summits on this topic.
Indeed - and this is exactly the point of ISA licensing (and IP blocks): to make it sufficiently cheaper to just license the ISA or IP blocks instead of developing the product from ground up.
I am not convinced that competition is always a good thing here: lots of competitors lead to shrinking margins. This means less money that can be invested into innovating by the respective companies.
Unless we can automate the chip making process. Think of it as the chip version of PCB micromanufacture or 3D printing. At some point someone will make a business out of making boards and placing all the components for you. The trick is to do it without any retooling and no humans involved.
What is the manufacturing cost of a wafer full of, say, CPUs? If we can all get our designs in there, we can share the manufacturing cost.
This is called "multi project wafer" or "shuttle service" if you want to look for it.
Actual prices are pretty rare, but I happened to find some: https://nmi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/01-Easy-Access... ; those line up with what I've heard. $25,000 for a few chips from the MPW service, or $100k for your own mask set then $1-2k per wafer.